Sunday, October 25, 2009

FC United of Manchester's FA Cup dream ended by Northwich Victoria

Source: The Guardian

Northwich Victoria 3-0 FC United of Manchester

* David Hopps at the Victoria Ground
*, Saturday 24 October 2009 19.58 BST

At the Victoria Ground, tucked behind Northwich Asphalt, a little piece of football history stubbornly failed to materialise. This was the day that Football Club of Manchester, the grassroots club formed by disaffected Manchester United supporters, imagined that they might reach the FA Cup first round for the first time. Instead, the game turned against them on a disputed penalty, a tough reminder that it is one thing to begin to lay the asphalt, quite another to extend the road to its final destination.

Eric Cantona even expressed the hope last year that the club might win the European Cup in 50 years' time, but upward momentum was halted, temporarily at least, by Mark Danks, a former England U15 international and FA Trophy winner with Hednesford, who rolled in a 57th-minute penalty after Adam Tong had brought down Lee Elam. Tong's misery was complete eight minutes from time when he clumped an own goal past his goalkeeper.

Among FCUM's vociferous supporters, there was dismay. "I thought he got the ball," bemoaned one regular. "He normally gets the ball." There were chances to equalise, Jerome Wright bringing a fine save from Curtis Aspden, but as a rainbow briefly appeared above the asphalt plant, it was Northwich who retained hopes of an FA Cup pot of gold.

Three back-to-back promotions have taken FCUM to the Unibond League Premier Division. But it is getting harder. They lie only in mid-table this season and it had been their progress to the FA Cup fourth qualifying round that had brought the greatest cause for optimism this term. Their heroics against Stalybridge Celtic in the previous round are on YouTube. "Jerome Wright smacks the shit out of the ball to put FCUM into the fourth qualifying round,'' it says.

"We've had a great run,'' said FCUM's manager Karl Marginson. "Credit to the lads for getting so far.''

Since the club were formed in protest at the Malcolm Glazer takeover, with a commitment to one-member-one-vote and community involvement, it is amazing that others have not followed. Considering the Tom and Jerry routine of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, you would have thought that FC Liverpool would have been a gimme.

But it is not just Premier League clubs who can live a crazed existence. Northwich Victoria have 130 years of history, but they too are an example of what happens to a town's football club when they lose touch with the community, and with reality.

Northwich need the money more than FCUM do. The club is in administration, the Inland Revenue remain unhappy and creditors are being offered 25 per cent. The owner, Jim Rush, talks of having invested £350,000 since assuming control two years ago and promises that a consortium is on the verge of buying the Victoria Stadium for £1.5m.

The arrival of FCUM swelled the crowd to 2.615, the largest since Rush assumed control, and Northwich played enough decent football maybe to tempt back a few casual fans. The decision to segregate the supporters, though, caused a few problems with the half-time raffle. "Come and see me in the main stand for the winning ticket,'' said the PA announcer. "But maybe you can't get to me because of segregation. Bring a steward.''

FCUM's principles have rightly brought political approval. Earlier this year, Andy Burnham, in his time as minister for culture, media and sport, praised them for "defying the odds'' in setting up "a genuine democratic, community-based club".

There again, it is best not to get too carried away with political approval for the grassroots in a week when another former sports minister, Richard Caborn, the head of the 2018 World Cup bid committee, has spent a week overseeing the wooing of wives of the Fifa voting committee with Mulberry designer handbags.

Northwich, one tier above FCUM in the Conference North, fully merited this victory. As defeat became inevitable, behind the goal one banner proclaimed "FCUM – MUFC – I Got Love Enough For Two.'' But for how much longer?